By David Lefkowitz
01 Sep 1997
In Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn steps into the very Southern, very assimilated Freitag household the night Gone With the Wind is premiering in Atlanta. "My character is proud of who he is; he stands for something," says Paul Rudd, who plays Joe Farkas, the Yankee who can't understand the distinction well-to-do Southerners make between German Jews (them) and those from Eastern Europe (him). "I had a personal response to the play because I'm an Eastern European Jew who grew up in the Midwest," notes Rudd. "There weren't very many Jewish kids in my school, and I felt a little alienated because of my religion."
Joe Farkas is a romantic character who courts the favored Freitag daughter and speaks his mind in every situation. Onstage, Rudd displays the same easy charm he brought to the hit movie Clueless, a Valley Girl version of Jane Austen's Emma in which he woos the flighty Cher, played by Alicia Silverstone. "It's no Citizen Kane, but Clueless was a clever, funny movie," Rudd says. "After it was on HBO, I started realizing just how many people had seen it."
Though Rudd went on to play Paris in the recent movie version of Romeo and Juliet and has three feature films scheduled for release this year, he seems delighted to be on Broadway in an ensemble play. "There's a fulfillment in going from start to finish without a break every night," he says of the theatre. "Film acting is difficult in other ways, but acting onstage is like going to the gym. You're exercising your acting muscles, and that's how you get better."